One Determined Lady Broke the Records!

Back in the days of tin foil on rabbit ears, necessary to watch all three television channels, my Gillette Elementary School third grade classmates and I enjoyed Friday mid-mornings because it was when our Weekly Readers would arrive.

We were first introduced to them in the second grade by Mrs. Lydia Dudek, a golly geeze swell teacher. Mrs. Florence Barnes, nice but a bit more regimented, continued the welcomed tradition of us taking turns reading our very own newspapers out loud.

Talking about each article-usually about space exploration, a record breaking sports achievement or new national park or monument in the works– from these small tabloids before cafeteria lunch fueled our imaginations just in time for recess play activities.

One particular article fascinated me because the topic was about a woman who shared the same first name as Mrs. Barnes.

Florence Chadwick was a typist who grew up swimming often where she was born and grew up in a long distance place called San Diego, California.

I liked that city’s name because it started with “San,” like my hometown of San Antonio.

For 18 years, as an amateur swimming in ocean races off the California coast, Chadwick went to work typing for the Arabian American Oil Company so she could begin training in the Persian Gulf.

Her lifelong dream was to swim the infamous English Channel from France to England. She was determined to do it.

But in a 1950 half-century contest sponsored by the London Daily Mail, she was denied entry. This didn’t stop her.  Chadwick went about conquering the Channel at her own expense, paying for a boat, trainer, and navigator.

In July she made her first attempt and failed after being in the water 14 hours.

On August 8, at age 32, she left Cape Gris Nez, France and crawled ashore at Dover, a record 13 hours 23 minutes later.

“I feel fine,” she told reporters. “I am quite prepared to swim back.”

The following summer, she became the first woman to swim the Channel from England to France (16:22) and the first woman to swim it both ways.

Her initial successful crossing swimming from France to England, she finally breaking the women’s record (14:34) set by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim it.

Eleven others had made the Channel between Ederle and Chadwick, but all in slower times. Chadwick’s thirteenth ever women’s crossing lowered the record by an hour and 11 minutes.

Counting males as well as females, Florence was the 32nd person to complete the crossing, called impossible until Capt. Webb accomplished it in 1875. No other man made it until 1911 and Miss Ederle was the first woman in 1926.

In 1952, she attempted to swim 26 miles from the coast of California to Catalina Island. After 15 hard hours, a heavy fog began to block her view.

Chadwick became disoriented. She gave up.

To her embarrassment, she learned that she had quit just one mile short of the Catalina shoreline.

Two months later tried it again. Guess what happened? A very thick fog settled in, but this time Chadwick continued on. She did it. By reaching her destination she became the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel.

This time Chadwick said she kept an image of the shoreline in her mind when she couldn’t see it.

Florence Chadwick congratulating Bill Pickering, who had just broken her World record by 36 minutes. She got it back barely 6 weeks later, beating his time by 11 minutes.

Enjoying those Weekly Readers was helpful. As time went on, reading became a passion. My wife, Dodie spends about an hour each day reading the Bible and devotionals.

I don’t read it as much as she does, but am glad I have often over the years. When problems of life and news cloud our vision, it’s a blessing to have opportunities to learn to see our goals with the eyes of faith.

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews suggests we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).

Like Florence Chadwick, when we feel like quitting, this is our signal to remember not only what Jesus Christ suffered for us, but what He now helps us to endure.

Besides her accomplishments at the English Channel, Chadwick went forward to become the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Bosporus, and the Dardanelles.

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